The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) announced earlier this month that the African Union Assembly adopted the 2040 Agenda for Children, which lays out goals related to the rights of children set to be achieved across the continent by 2040. [ACERWC Press Release] The agenda was developed in consideration of conclusions drawn during a conference held in 2015 to evaluate the status of the rights of children in Africa 25 years after the adoption of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (Children’s Charter), which 48 of the 55 States on the continent have ratified. [ACERWC Press Release] The agenda, which draws on the Children’s Charter as well as other prominent legal and political documents, calls for an effective framework for the advancement of children’s rights, children’s access to nourishment and basic necessities, children’s ability to reap the benefits of education, the protection of children from abuse, and a child-sensitive criminal justice system, among other aspirations. [ACERWC Press Release] States will be responsible for reviewing their progress annually, and the ACERWC will facilitate more extensive reviews every five years. See ACERWC, Africa’s Agenda for Children 2040: Fostering an Africa Fit for Children (2016), at 34.
The 2040 Agenda for Children
The agenda comprises 10 aspirations specific to the rights of children, each accompanied by actions States should take to ensure their realization. The first aspiration is the development of “an effective continental framework for advancing children’s rights,” which includes full acceptance, dissemination, and implementation of the Children’s Charter by all African States and effective reporting and communications procedures to ensure government accountability, including the regular submission of State reports to the ACERWC. See id. at 11. The second aspiration is the existence of child-friendly national legislatures, institutions, and policies that serve children’s best interests. See id. at 12.
The third aspiration is the universal and compulsory registration of every child’s birth through effective national laws, as birth certificates are oftentimes necessary for children to access education, receive health care, and establish a nationality. See id. at 13. This aspiration of the agenda also requires that each child acquire a nationality at birth and that compulsory registration policies are also in place for vital marriages and deaths to aid, for instance, in the prevention of child marriages. See id. The registration of children at birth and of marriage are required under articles 6(2) and 21(2) of the Children’s Charter, respectively. Children have the right to acquire a nationality also under Article 6 of the Children’s Charter. See Children’s Charter, arts. 6, 21.
The fourth, fifth, and sixth aspirations address the conditions of childhood, calling for every child to survive, have access to basic necessities, and reap the benefits of a quality education. See id. at 14–20. Achieving these goals will involve tackling Africa’s infant mortality rate, the spread of preventable diseases, poverty, sanitation, and gender equity in schools, among many other concerns. See ACERWC, Africa’s Agenda for Children 2040: Fostering an Africa Fit for Children, at 14–20. These goals require the elimination of HIV transmission from mother to child, HIV treatment for children and vaccinations, access to health care for children, reduction of maternal mortality rates, access to safe drinking water, sufficient food for all children, elimination of extreme poverty among children, effective social security policies, free education through secondary school, inclusive education and accommodations in school for children with disabilities, gender equality in education for both students and teachers, and education of children on their rights and responsibilities, among other requirements. See id. Articles 5, 11, and 14 of the Children’s Charter guarantee the rights to life, education, and the highest attainable standard of health for every child. See Children’s Charter, arts. 5, 11, 14.
The seventh aspiration is for every child to be protected from violence, exploitation, neglect, and abuse. See id. at 21–22. This encompasses the elimination of corporal punishment, forced labor, child trafficking, sexual exploitation, child pornography, gender-based violence, and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage. See id. The Children’s Charter requires States to protect children from child labor, to take steps to protect children from torture, inhuman, or degrading treatment; to eliminate harmful practices such as child marriage; to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse; and prevent trafficking in children under articles 15, 16, 21, 27, and 29. See Children’s Charter, arts. 15, 16, 21, 27, 29.
The eighth aspiration is the reformation of the criminal justice system to be more sensitive to the circumstances and needs of children, which will involve setting the minimum age for criminal responsibility to 12 years old in every State, implementing crime prevention strategies for children, offering rehabilitative alternatives to prison, and collecting data to inform national policies. See id. at 23. Article 17 of the African Children’s Charter requires all children in the criminal justice system to be treated with dignity and respect for their human rights. See Children’s Charter, art. 17.
The ninth aspiration is for children to be shielded from the impacts of armed conflict and other disasters. See id. at 24. Specifically, the agenda calls for the overall reduction of armed conflict in Africa, an end to the use of child soldiers, armed forces to be trained on how to approach and protect children, for the underlying causes of armed conflict to be addressed, the elimination of the proliferation of weapons, services and support are reinstated or provided for children in conflict affected areas, and children are involved in peace-building and preventative initiatives. See id. at 24–25. The Children’s Charter protects against the use of child soldiers under Article 22. See Children’s Charter, art. 22.
The final aspiration is to cultivate respect for children’s views and ensure their participation in the development of policies that will affect their interests. See ACERWC, Africa’s Agenda for Children 2040: Fostering an Africa Fit for Children, at 26–27. This aspiration also requires the protection of children’s right to assemble and to access information. See id. at 27. Articles 7 and 8 of the Children’s Charter protect children’s rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association. See Children’s Charter, arts. 7 and 8.
Each State party to the Children’s Charter will implement the agenda at the national level and report on its progress to the ACERWC at the end of each implementation phase, at which time the Committee will facilitate stakeholder meetings to review States’ progress and set the agenda for the following five years. See id. at 29, 34. The agenda emphasizes that implementation will require coordination among States, the African Union, civil society, parents, children, international partners, and regional economic communities in Africa, among others. See id. at 29–31. The five implementation phases end in 2020, 2025, 2030, 2035, and 2040. See id. 29.
The 2040 Agenda for Children was developed as a supplement to the broader Agenda 2063 for Africa’s socio-economic transformation, which also calls specifically for the empowerment of children. See id. at 8; African Union Commission, Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want (2015), para. 53. The purpose of the 2040 Agenda for Children is to offer goals and strategies for the advancement of children’s rights, building on lessons learned during the 25 years since the adoption of the Children’s Charter. See ACERWC, Africa’s Agenda for Children 2040: Fostering an Africa Fit for Children, at 8.
The Children’s Charter was adopted in July 1990 and entered into force in November 1999. It codifies many accepted human rights norms pertaining to the rights of children, including the rights to non-discrimination, survival and development, education, and freedom from abuse and exploitation. See generally Children’s Charter. The Charter also addresses the rights of children in certain circumstances, such as armed conflict, adoption, trafficking, and juvenile justice. See id. To date, 48 States have ratified the Charter, though four (Botswana, Egypt, Mauritania, and Sudan) have done so with reservations, meaning they do not consider themselves bound by one or more articles.
Background on the ACERWC
The ACERWC derives its authority from articles 32 through 46 of the Children’s Charter. See ACERWC, The Mandate. Its mandate is to monitor States’ implementation of the Charter, interpret its provisions, and promote and protect the rights contained therein through the collection of information, convening of meetings, and cooperation with relevant international and regional organizations. See id. The Committee is composed of 11 experts who serve in their individual capacities for five-year terms. See ACERWC, The Experts.